The Journey To Cold Harbor
It was the evening of my twenty-first birthday when I had my first panic attack. I was celebrating at TGI Fridays in Rockville, MD with my friends Linda and Theresa. I’m now 53, and as I write this, the experience of that night is as immediate as if it occurred yesterday. I continue to deal with occasional panic attacks, and certainly still struggle, sometimes daily, with anxiety and depression. But now, in my fifties, I’m finally starting to deal with my mental health and learning how to manage it.
When I started shaking uncontrollably and slurring my speech at that birthday so many years ago, my friends thought I was having a stroke. They whisked me out of the restaurant and down the street to my brother-in-law, the doctor, who informed us that I was not having a stroke. He handed me a brown paper bag to breathe into and as my breathing slowed, I started to come back to myself. Even though I had no idea what a panic attack was, I had just experienced my first one.
I carried that brown paper bag around with me for years until it disintegrated. I lived in fear that another episode could come at any time and come, they did. I had to leave many concerts, parties, and family gatherings in my youth to sit in my car and breathe into that damn bag. After several months of this, I eventually moved on from those attacks and enjoyed my twenties mostly panic-free. Though anxiety was my constant companion during that time, I didn’t have a word for it, and didn’t understand what was happening to me. I just thought I was a nervous, scared, sensitive person. After all, my mother had told me since I was a small boy that I was “too sensitive” and should just “go outside and play like a normal boy.”
My panic attacks resurfaced during my thirties and forties, but I could go years between episodes. Anxiety was, of course, still my constant companion, but I was also beginning to experience something new—depression. Ugh! I would say my forties were my most difficult years battling depression, anxiety and the occasional panic attack. Though I still did manage to go periods of time, sometimes even long stretches, where I was happy and lived a good life. Then, I turned fifty.
It took three nights in a row without sleep, and constant, intense panic attacks before I finally admitted to myself that I needed help. It was one of the worst and most prolonged episodes I had ever experienced. I found a therapist that specializes in anxiety and panic disorders and I went to see him. Through therapy, I learned about my “pain body” and finally started to deal with a trauma that I have been carrying around with me since I was a kid. I was now tackling issues I should have addressed long ago. I felt for the first time in my life that I was finally beginning to understand myself and why I am the way I am.
Being a singer/songwriter for a living, my therapist encouraged me to use music as an outlet for what I’d been going through and feeling. In the past I had written cryptically about depression in the occasional song, but I had never tackled the subject head on before. And I certainly had never addressed such issues as anxiety and panic attacks. Well, the floodgates opened and out poured an entire album's worth of material. Hence my new album Cold Harbor was born. Writing these songs may have provided as much healing for me as going to therapy did.
Therapy and organizations like ADAA have given me the tools to help manage my anxiety, and writing/performing music have given me the outlet I need to heal and move on. It is my sincere hope that this new collection of songs brings as much comfort and healing to others who live with anxiety and depression, as writing them has brought to me.
Thank you for reading. Learn more about me and listen to my new album Cold Harbor at hiddenpoet.com.